Rural campaigner Colin Speakman looks at the implications of the expansion of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

PUTTING part of Cumbria into the Yorkshire Dales. Does it really matter?

Not many people in Craven know or have even heard of the village of Orton, north of Tebay. But on August 1, appropriately enough Yorkshire Day, it was briefly the centre of national attention with television crews in attendance, to record the official extension of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

It’s a very pretty village – a couple of fine old halls going back to the 16th and 17th centuries, several 18th century houses, a pub, café and rather special chocolate shop. Nearby is Orton Scar, a spectacular limestone crag.

Orton is probably best known as a stopping-off point on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path – a great place to stay before heading over to Kirkby Stephen and, eventually, Swaledale.

It isn’t a typical Dales village, but very much a part of Cumbria, indeed old Westmorland in character, a name local people are proud to use.

So, were locals furious about being put into the Yorkshire Dales? Far from it. People of the village and surrounding areas were delighted.

Local farmer and business owner, John Dunning, put it very well indeed at the opening event when he said that people in the area recognise how supportive the Yorkshire Dales National Park is to local farming and business interests. A small office and ranger base has been opened in the village so that work can begin on help to maintain footpaths and to liaise with local people on planning and visitor management matters.

Most people in the area see the Yorkshire Dales National Park not as an imposition but as a supporter and ally. They understand how 20 million visitors per year to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks generate £1.4 billion in the region’s economy, much of it from overseas visitors.

The extension into old Westmorland and in the western fringes of the park along the beautiful Lune Valley in Lancashire, has increased the National Park by almost a quarter from 680 to 841 square miles, making it the third largest National Park in the UK.

As well as the beautiful Orton Fells, it now includes the whole of the Howgills, the wonderful areas around Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell – two highlights of the Settle Carlisle line rail journey – and the Lune valley down to Kirby Lonsdale.

The only dissenting voices have come, with sad predictability, from a well-known maverick North Yorkshire county councillor, who claims that not enough money has been given to do the job (despite significant increase in funding from central government) and, therefore, North Yorkshire will suffer, and the Country Landowners and Business Association, which resents alleged additional planning regulations and costs, which many people believe is actually an excuse for the fact it doesn't want people from towns and cities to share and enjoy the beautiful countryside and estates they are fortunate enough to live and work in.

In fact, Lord Gardiner, Defra’s parliamentary under secretary of state with a responsibility for National Parks, made it very clear that Government recognises the enormous contribution farmers and landowners make to National Parks.

As he indicated: “We want to acknowledge the stewardship of generations of farmers, landowners and countryside managers and the contribution they have made to the landscape we see today."

But he went on to stress the importance of National Parks to the nation’s physical and mental well-being, the production of quality regional food and as havens for wildlife. The Government, as part of its eight-point plan, is committed to encouraging more young people, in particular, to come to go National Parks for the personal and educational benefits they will enjoy. They have pledged to work with National Park Authorities to help achieve this.

The increased in size of both the Lakes and the Dales National Parks will help with the management of these new visitors. Visitors spend money in shops, cafes, pubs, especially if they stay overnight. Catering for visitors – including provision of locally-sourced food – is one way in a National Park that farm businesses can diversify in what is otherwise a very challenging economic climate. Conservation work, whether repairing dry stones walls, planting trees or laying hedges, also creates paid employment, either directly through the National Park or through contractual work with small businesses. There is also new scope for volunteers to help support the work of the park authority. Local people living in the new areas of the park will be especially warmly welcomed.

One major challenge is transport. With just one bus a day, Mondays to Friday, to and from Kendal, and a single heritage bus on Thursdays, you can’t really visit Orton without a car. Plans for a new community transport company to be set up in Kirkby Stephen might help get at least one Saturday bus operating to allow younger visitors without access to a car to have a day’s walking in the Orton area.

The 4,000 people living in the new areas of the National Park will not lose their identity by living within part of the internationally-recognised and acclaimed Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The extension has other benefits. Lancashire now has a welcome new representative on the National Park Authority. In fact, it’s all about added value. Local residents can boast that they live in Lancashire, Cumbria and – even Westmorland – but also in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.